If Christmas just generally stresses you out with its busy-ness, expectations, and endless to-do lists, this blog will be a great place to get encouragement, ideas and courage to change things for the better. My new ebook. Taming the Christmas Monster, is also available for Kindle on Amazon.com. This book will take you through the process of evaluating the way you’ve been celebrating Christmas and help you discover how to have a meaningful, joyful and peaceful holiday. You can learn to enjoy and look forward to Christmas again!
Today my 9 year old and I saw some city workers installing Christmas trees on light poles in our city. Known as “The Christmas City,” we have a considerable amount of tourism here around the holidays, so it isn’t really early for the city to be getting ready. To their credit, they haven’t tried to extend the season too much, although it would probably benefit them to do so.
Anyway, the sight of the Christmas tree got my daughter reflecting on the tradition of giving gifts. “You know where giving gifts started, Mom,” she said from the backseat as we drove. “The wise men gave gifts to Jesus.”
I pointed out that the gifts Jesus got weren’t toys, and that he didn’t get a whole bunch of them. “Some people have taken that tradition way overboard,” I commented. “Including our family, sometimes.”
She thought about that for a minute, then suggested that I could buy her an alarm clock for Christmas. We had just been talking about getting her one so she could start get herself up in the mornings instead of me waking her up. She’s growing up so fast. Even though her list so far is full of all kinds of toys, she is open to adjusting her expectations and doesn’t expect to get everything on her list. She likes the gifting aspect of Christmas, no doubt about it, but she knows it isn’t what Christmas is really all about.
“Soon it will be Christmas,” she said excitedly during our conversation. “The time when Jesus was born as a baby.”
October and early November is a good time to reevaluate your gift giving habits and attitudes. How much importance do you put on giving or getting the perfect gifts? Do you think your attitudes and habits are reflective of what you believe Christmas is all about? If not, what changes could you make, and how can you prepare your loved ones for these changes?
I’m not going to push my opinions as being the only right ones, because each one of us has to decide for ourselves how important gifts should be, and how we want to handle this aspect of our celebration. The important thing is to be intentional and not just fall prey to the constant advertising messages we will be exposed to this time of year.
I really haven’t thought about or focused on Christmas much this October. 2 days ago was exactly 2 months until Christmas, and a few years ago I would not have been comfortable having NO gifts bought or even really planned at this point other than some stocking stuffers. Sometimes I still have moments where I wonder if I am waiting too long to get started on preparations, but then I remember all the changes I have made and I know that this is the result–a more appropriate level of focus on this holiday instead of it taking over everything for the entire season.
In the comments below, share your thoughts on gift-giving and any efforts you have made to put Christmas into a more appropriate place in your life.
Well, as promised, it has been a l-o-o-o-ng time since you have heard from me. I don’t know if you were thinking about Christmas in January as you tried to keep New Year’s Resolutions or in April as the flowers started to bloom or in September as the new school year started. I can honestly tell you that I haven’t bought any gifts yet except for a few stocking stuffers, and I’ve been ignoring my few Facebook friends who like to occasionally taunt me with memes like this:
Wow, do we really not have anything better to do than think about Christmas almost 4 months ahead of time? Besides the fact that half of those memes are not accurate about how many more days or weeks there are. They get posted, then shared for a few weeks, and people don’t bother to check their calendars. If Facebook says it’s 15 weeks until Christmas, then it must be true, right?
To tell you the truth, a few years ago, I would have been panicking about the fact that it is now only about 9 weeks until Christmas. In previous years, I have been mostly finished shopping by Halloween. Some years I was writing out my card list and getting ready to start wrapping gifts at this point. But when I really thought about it, I realized that Christmas is one day! And no one day, no matter how special, is worth 3 or 4 months of preparation. I had to simplify.
I still think October is too early to get overly concerned about Christmas. It’s on my radar, but barely. Women’s ministry at church had to set a date for the cookie swap and luncheon. I took a peek at when the last day of school was and what Christmas vacation looked like. There are some things that it makes sense to do in October. My next post will go into some detail about what those are and why it makes sense to wait to do some other things.
I know most of the retail world is not on board with my simplified Christmas, but that is nothing new. I decided a long time ago that stores were not going to dictate my shopping habits to me. Last week, I walked into Bon Ton and saw this:
Does the sight of Christmas decorations in October make you break out in a cold sweat? Does it make you feel behind in your planning and shopping? Take a breath. You are the one who decides when it’s time to start thinking about Christmas. It’s a process. It takes time to change habits and ingrained patterns of thinking.
If Christmas gives you joy and you enjoy decorating, shopping, planning and thinking about it for months every year, I’m not here to tell you there’s anything wrong with that. You don’t need this site, though. There are lots of sites out there for you! If Christmas mostly stresses you out and you dread it, though, I encourage you to set firm limits on how much of your time and energy it consumes. You are the people this site aims to encourage, to support, and to help find a better way.
It’s not going to harm anyone if you send a Christmas email instead of cards this year. It may actually benefit your family if you sit them down and explain that you need to stay sane this holiday season, so you won’t be doing some of the things you’ve done in the past. More about that later. The point is, sometimes we feel trapped by the things we think are necessary to the Christmas experience of those we care about. If we don’t bake the cookies, our family will suffer. If we don’t send out fancy cards, our friends will think we won’t care.
In fact, if you courageously draw a line and refuse to do the things that stress you out, you will be pleasantly surprised at how little the people around you actually care. And if they do react initially, you will be surprised at how quickly they adjust to the new normal. In many cases, we overestimate the importance of having to do everything the same way every year. It’s okay to change things up and say no to being over-busy and stressed.
So right here, right now, banish Christmas stress this year. Just don’t allow it to come into your life. When it knocks at your door or tries to climb in the window or sneaks in through the back door and tries to sit right on your chest, you just come visit this site again, maybe take a read of my ebook “Taming the Christmas Monster,” and tell yourself that Christmas is about faith first, family second, and showing love to others third. There is simply no room for stress!
An important part of change is the process of evaluating experiences. So how was Christmas this year? What was good about the day, and the season of preparation? What didn’t go how you planned?
Take some time to think about all the aspects of your Christmas celebration–the preparation, the execution, and the aftermath. While it’s fresh in your mind, write down some of your thoughts. Make plans for next year and write them down. Then put them in a place where you will be sure to see them next year at the right time. Maybe store them with your Christmas decorations–or even with your fall decorations if that’s when Christmas starts trying to get your attention.
This year was a good Christmas for my family. It was probably the Christmas I’ve felt least stressed and pressed for time since before I was married. In evaluating the reasons for this, though, I need to be realistic about recreating this experience.
Part of the reason I felt less stressed was because I didn’t do as much. We cut back on the amount of gifts we bought (but not the amount we spent), so that meant less gifts to wrap. I had changed my diet in the months leading up to Christmas, so we baked much less. We didn’t plan any day trips in the days before Christmas like we had other years, either. These changes helped make the days leading up to Christmas calmer and less busy.
But there were other reasons why this year probably seemed so relaxed. First, the school where I teach part time decided to give an extra-long vacation this year, including 5 days off BEFORE Christmas. This is unusual and is unlikely to be repeated every year (probably depending on when Christmas falls in the week). Being finished with school so early gave me a lot of extra time to work on all those last minute details. The second reason why this year seemed so relaxed is that my husband took off the same days as I had off from school. As I have mentioned in other posts, he is extremely helpful, and he did everything from last-minute shopping to a whole day of baking cookies for the family.
I can’t count on these two reasons above to repeat themselves every year, but I certainly did enjoy it this year. When next year comes, I will reflect on the simplicity of this year and do what I can to recreate it. Other years, I have not had experiences as great as this one, and I have used this time to reflect on what I want to be different next year.
One thing that didn’t go as planned for me was the posting schedule for this blog. I had planned many more frequent posts to help navigate the season with joy and without stress, but other writing commitments and several (seasonal) family illnesses ate up a lot of my time and prevented me from keeping to my schedule.
I may post a few more times as we head into January, but I will not be keeping this blog going continuously until next year. To do so would defeat the purpose of this blog, which is to stop Christmas from taking over too much of our time and energy throughout the year. In October of next year, I will resume postings. Until then, my e-book, Taming the Christmas Monster, is available on Amazon if you would need to get a head start on the season.
Today is New Year’s Eve, and so I wish everyone a Happy New Year and every blessing for 2015!
It’s a busy time. Just 8 days left until Christmas, and if you’re like me, you have a long list of things to do. As much as I’ve relaxed and managed not to be stressed up until this point, it’s very difficult not to feel it now. My advice: just take it one day at a time. I have a list–several lists, actually–but if I get too caught up in looking at the whole picture of what I have left to do, I get easily overwhelmed, which doesn’t help me keep moving and get things done. If I focus primarily on today’s tasks, my productivity stays high and I’m pleased with what I can accomplish each day.
Today I am getting together my little token gifts to all my students (I teach in a small school, so there are only 17 of them), and for my daughter’s teachers. The class parties are tomorrow, and it’s a good time to hand everything out. I also ordered some Christmas cards, which will hopefully be done tomorrow so I can pick them up and give them out to my colleagues on the teaching staff. This was a last minute decision, which happens when you don’t obsessively plan. Sometimes it makes things a little busier, but I’ll take that trade-off, because obsessively planning just stresses me out. Things never work exactly according to my plan, and when they don’t, I stress. For me, it’s better to stay flexible and deal with the problems of being last minute.
I’m going to keep this post short, because I know you probably have a lot to do, as I do. Keep going, take as much time as you can to enjoy these days. and check back for a few more posts as the big day draws closer. Feel free to share your experiences of this last week before Christmas in the comments below.
I found this list on Facebook. I’d be happy to give credit if I could find out where it came from (but I can’t). Read this list and then ask yourself: How much of what you are doing this Christmas is really important? How much of it will last?
We spend so many hours each December, finding all the perfect gifts, then wrapping them. We bake beautiful, tasty cookies. We go to parties, we go on lights tours, we search for that perfectly symmetrical tree and decorate it with precision. Let me ask you: How much of the stuff we spend hours and hours doing every December is actually important to what Christmas really means?
Let me put it another way. On December 26th, when the presents are all unwrapped, the cookies sampled, the new dresses worn, and the tree is dying, are you going to feel like everything you are doing now was worth it? Or will you be feeling like you should have spent more time being present, giving hugs, helping others, spreading peace, and being the light?
Don’t live with regret. You can change what you are doing so that you do feel you’ve spent time on the important things when Christmas is over this year.
Some things I will not regret:
1. Cuddling on the couch watching a Christmas movie with my 8 year old.
2. Making special date time with my husband during the busiest time of the year (we saw a play and we went to the local craft fairs together).
3. Participating in Operation Christmas Child events and a Christmas party for low income kids sponsored by my church.
4. Continuing to work on my writing rather than making excuses that “it’s just too busy in December.”
How did I make these things happen?
1. I gave up one of my part time jobs for the month of December. This has helped my stress level so much! Having the luxury of time is worth a lot more than the few hundred dollars I would have earned.
2. I streamlined my Christmas routine by delegating a lot of the shopping to hubby (he likes it), buying fewer gifts on the same budget (less wrapping), and baking a few items as I have time, rather than having a huge baking list that I strive to complete.
3. I decided ahead of time to ask for help if I start to feel stressed and like I’m falling behind.
What can you do this week to ensure that your Christmas priorities are met this year?
Photo credit: Flickr
On Mondays until Christmas, I’ve decided to write about the stress we can experience surrounding Christmas and what we can do about it. In this post, part one of the series, we will recognize what is behind the stress we are feeling.
There are 23 days until Christmas. Does that statement make your heart skip a beat or your stomach lurch? For years, my strongest feeling about Christmas was something like panic. Sure, I had some joyful moments, and I recognized the significance of the season, but the anxiety I felt overshadowed it all and crowded out far to much of my enjoyment.
Behind my near-panic were some fears I had to deal with in order to really enjoy Christmas again. Identifying these fears and changing the thoughts behind them is the key to defeating them. How many of these fears can you identify with?
1) The fear of not getting everything done. I used to think of Christmas as the mother of all deadlines, looming over my head. My huge to-do list had an end point, and it was December 25th. This led me to look at parties and Christmas-related events as obstacles to my to-do list, making them impossible to enjoy. Instead of looking toward Christmas with anticipation, I dreaded it.
What changed: A combination of prioritizing (read: shortening) my to-do list and realizing that my Christmas-loving husband was just waiting to help me get it all done led me to see that my fears were unfounded. Who in your life will help you with the necessary tasks?
2) The fear of forgetting something. Many nights in December, I would drift off to sleep only to wake up shortly after, heart racing. Something I needed to do or at least write down had stolen my rest yet again. No wonder I ended up sick or even further behind because I was too tired to keep up the pace that Christmas seemed to require.
What changed: Keeping a notepad (or in my case, my phone has a notes app) next to the bed helps immensely with remembering things, but I notice that I don’t even typically wake up needing to write things down anymore. I guess I just realized that I will remember the important things and the rest, I have just let go.
3) The fear of disappointing someone. This is a big one for a lot of people. By nature, we want to make other people happy, and the prospect of disappointing our loved ones by not doing everything we’ve done in the past or not making Christmas special enough is a scary one.
What changed: Realizing I couldn’t make people happy, they had to make themselves happy. Even if I did disappoint someone, they would most likely forgive me and love me anyway. And that I was probably disappointing people much more by being stressed and grumpy than by not getting every little thing on my list done.
Recognizing the fears that are causing us stress and anxiety at Christmas is the first step to overcoming them. What fears are causing you stress this Christmas? Post them in the comments below. Chances are, you aren’t alone. Now go enjoy Christmas!
Next post: Christmas Priorities
photo credit: Flickr
Although I know that many Black Friday sales started yesterday on Thanskgiving, I was at my mother-in-law’s house, enjoying food and company and beating my daughter three times in checkers on the iPad, so I am only facing the existence of Black Friday sales today. That’s my choice, and you have choices, too.
I encourage you to make choices leading up to Christmas that allow you to approach the holiday with joy and enjoyment of the delights the season brings. This is the way to “tame Christmas.” Instead of climbing on the Christmas season roller coaster and being whipped around by other people’s demands and store advertisements and your own expectations that things need to be perfect for you to be happy, you can get into the driver’s seat of the Christmasmobile and take it where YOU want to go this season.
This video from the TV show Big Bang Theory is a humorous look at how most people view gift giving.
How similar is your view of gift giving to Sheldon’s? Do you look at gift giving through the lens of reciprocity–giving a gift to those who give you a gift? Does it fill you with anxiety that you might be given a gift by someone and be unprepared to give one in return? For many people, gift giving is a “non-optional social contract,” as the characters in another episode of Big Bang Theory state. I love this video clip because even though it’s true that most people (not just Sheldon) look at gift-giving this way, it shows how cold and mechanical that can be, which is the opposite of the whole idea of giving gifts.
I have learned to look at gifts another way. The way I see it, a gift is a way to bless someone else. Gifts are an expression that the receiver means something to you, that you care about them enough to bless them with a gift. This viewpoint can change the way you look at both giving and receiving gifts.
For many years, my family could not afford to buy gifts for family members that cost as much as what we received. My MIL and parents still buy for us like they did when we were kids growing up. They buy the same way for their grandchildren. At first, this was uncomfortable. I tried to compensate by spending many hours each year making gifts that would be worth a lot more money than the raw materials. After a while, I accepted the fact that there was no way to reciprocate in kind. But here’s the thing: nobody expected us to!
I now see that giving gifts is a choice by the giver. This works both ways. I have given gifts with no expectation of any in return, and I have received gifts without reciprocating as well. Sometimes I am touched and I want to give a gift in return. Sometimes it is so unexpected that I am unprepared to give a gift in return.
Our words can smooth over some of these awkward gift exchanges. As a receiver of an unexpected gift, we can simply be gracious and explain that we did not expect the gift and thank the giver. As a giver, we can explain that we don’t expect a gift in return. It is amazing to me how people agonize over gift exchanges. Think about it from the other side. Do you expect a gift for every gift you give? Are you going to get angry if your gifts are not reciprocated? That wouldn’t be a nice way to handle things, would it?
Letting go of some of the expectations surrounding gift-giving is a great way to enter the official Christmas shopping season. Get into the driver’s seat, make a list of who you would like to give gifts to, then shop as you see fit. According to your budget and schedule, you may also choose not to give gifts, even if you have done so in the past. This is a legitimate choice, so don’t feel badly. Just explain the situation and go on with your Christmas. It will be okay. Really. Breathe. You’ve got this.
Enjoy your day! Repeat.
Hardly a day goes by in my life now when Christmas isn’t mentioned or represented in some way. The stores are decorating, the road the mall is on is decorated, and one of my students even saw someone bringing home a live Christmas tree on their car the other day. My tree is dry enough by New Years, thanks. I will wait until after Thanksgiving.
My reaction to the people around me who are talking about Christmas and the Facebookers posting about Christmas has been a very firm “It’s too early.” The cartoon above sums up how I feel about it very well. Let me enjoy Thanksgiving and spend some time being thankful before you start bombarding me with Black Friday ads and wrapping paper sales.
It’s very ironic that we spend a day expressing thankfulness for all our blessings, then immediately, sometimes even an hour after eating, go into an intense focus on all the things we don’t yet have. Before the leftovers are even cleared away, family members are rushing out to the Black Friday sales. This will probably happen in my own extended family, and I just think it’s a shame that people consider it so important to get these things that they need to go out on Thanksgiving night. I love my family, that’s just how I feel about that issue. We can love each other and disagree.
I’m thankful for so many things this year. At the top of the list are my husband, who is wonderful to me every day of the year in a thousand ways, and for the way God has allowed my writing to grow this year. This blog and my other one, www.nextlevelfaith.com, as well as my two Kindle book,s 7 Days to a Closer Relationship with God and Taming the Christmas Monster, are a testament to God’s faithfulness in fulfilling my lifelong dream to be a writer. And from what I understand, this is just the beginning.
If you really think about it, you will realize that you are very blessed. If you have access to a computer on which to read this blog, you have so much more than most people in the world do. I hope that in addition to being blessed with material things, you have also been blessed with things you can’t hold in your hand: people to love and who love you in return, joy and an optimistic attitude, fulfilling work, and a personal relationship with your Creator.
God bless you this Thanksgiving. Please enjoy the time with family and friends, and think about what you’re thankful for. Post your comments below!
Central Moravian Church at Christmastime
photo source: Flickr
My church’s Christmas Boutique was held two Saturdays ago. This is a craft fair the church holds every year to raise money for youth ministries activities, missions trips and such. This is always the first Christmas-themed event on my schedule each year. It is held the first Saturday in November. Kind of early for my taste, but if they waited longer, people get too busy and can’t make the time to come (or to be a crafter, either).
Although this event is a little early, it won’t be long until the deluge of invitations to Christmas parties, church events, plays, shows, and programs begins. Thanksgiving is only 2 weeks away, and if you want to avoid a mad rush of activities, it’s time to make a strategy for just how to handle the next month. Here are some things I’ve done to make better decisions about Christmas-themed events.
1) Think about last year.
Did you think last year was too busy? What event(s) did you most enjoy last year? What events did you not enjoy or decide afterward were a waste of time? Maybe you can even settle on a number of events per week as a maximum you can handle. I have had weekends in December with multiple events in one day or weekend, which not only left me exhausted, but left me without time to do the other Christmas preparations I had planned. It is okay to set limits, even if that means you can’t do everything you want to do (or other people want you to do). Doing things out of obligation that you really don’t want to do will steal your joy this season. Other than your kids’ Christmas program, don’t feel obligated to attend events you really don’t want to go to.
2) Encourage your circle to spread out or skip events.
If you are asked for input, let your boss, pastor, scout leader, etc., know that having a Christmas party or event isn’t necessary. If someone seems determined to have a party, suggest holding it after Christmas, even after New Year’s, to lighten the schedule before Christmas. Between my husband and me, we are involved in over a dozen organizations that could have parties. That’s a lot of holiday events. I’ve been able to offer input to several of them, and as a result my workplace and our Bible study group both have their parties after the new year.
3) Make the best of it.
If you are attending an event purely out of obligation, try to find something enjoyable about it. Start a conversation with someone who interests you, try a new food, or suggest a fun party game (Apples to Apples is fun and can be played pretty quickly). If you are allowed, bring someone you care about so you can spend time with him or her while attending. Take time to appreciate the efforts of the event organizers, whether it’s good food, pretty decorations, or festive background music. Avoid thinking about your to-do list; stressing about what you should be doing will not accomplish anything and will prevent you from enjoying yourself.
At worst, attending a Christmas event will fulfill your obligation to someone you consider important. At best, it may be a great opportunity to relax and have some quality time with people you enjoy. Some of my husband’s and my favorite date nights come at Christmas, going to our town’s Christkindlmarkt and (when we get invited) our alma mater’s Vespers service. Don’t let stress rob you of enjoying all the season has to offer.
Here is a list of Christmas preparations I didn’t do this week:
1) Decorate my house. If I do it now, I’m tired of it by Christmas.
2) Buy from any of the Christmas displays I saw in stores this week.
3) Sing along to Christmas music, which I did hear little snippets of on TV and radio. Same reason as #1.
4) Watch any of the Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel. Yes, they already have Christmas specials on just about every day. I’m seeing the ads on other channels.
5) Baking or card writing. I have done these things in other years, when I subscribed to the “plan way ahead” method of Christmas preparation. My stress level has lowered considerably since I abandoned that method in favor of the “keeping Christmas in perspective as one day of the year” method.
I’m not against some level of planning ahead; however, intensive planning this far ahead doesn’t really lower my stress level much. Instead, I find that I’m at a heightened level of busy-ness for close to two months, and by Christmas day, I am exhausted. It takes most of the week between Christmas and New Year’s to recover.
I have decided this is too much to put into one day or holiday. Being intentional about keeping things simpler and less time consuming relieves my stress and is a better reflection of my beliefs.
photo credit: Flickr